Reading List: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

The cover image of Etaf Rum’s novel A Woman is No Man. The background is turquoise painted platter, peeled away in one area to reveal a brick wall.


I just finished this novel, and it was intense. It hurts to read. It hurts to imagine. And it hurts in moments where it is relatable, despite my culture and privilege differences from the characters.

Etaf tells a story of women’s obligation and pain through the lens of culture, specifically a Palestinian lens. A culture in which women’s lives are proscribed from birth to death.

The prologue begins:

I was born without a voice, one cold, overcast day in Brooklyn, New York. No one ever spoke of my condition. I did not know I was mute until years later, when I opened my mouth to ask for what I wanted and realized no one could hear me. Where I come from, voicelessness is the condition of my gender, as normal as the bosoms on a woman’s chest, as necessary as the next generation growing inside her belly. But we will never tell you this, of course. Where I come from, we’ve learned to conceal our condition. We’ve been taught to silence ourselves, that our silence will save us. It is only now, many years later, that I know this to be false. Only now, as I write this story, do I feel my voice coming.

Three generations of Palestinian women in America struggle with silence and expectation. Know that this silence is enforced again and again by violence and shaming by people who ostensibly should love them.

It is written in the style where different chapters are focused on different characters in different times, and it weaves together a story that is not understood completely until the end.

It is deeply sad and hard and a bit hopeful.

Signal Boost: On Disability and on Facebook? Uncle Sam Wants to Watch What You Post

The Trump administration wants to use Facebook and other social media to help identify people who are receiving Social Security disability benefits without being truly disabled.

Source: On Disability and on Facebook? Uncle Sam Wants to Watch What You Post

I understand the desire to reduce fraud, but…

My social media feed is full of people who are truly disabled and can’t get access to SSI or SSDI. Anything that makes this harder is a problem.


This could go wrong in so many ways!

“But advocates for people with disabilities say the use of social media in this way would be dangerous because photos posted there do not always provide reliable evidence of a person’s current condition.

“It may be difficult to tell when a photograph was taken,” said Lisa D. Ekman, a lawyer who is the chairwoman of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, a coalition of advocacy groups. “Just because someone posted a photograph of them golfing or going fishing in February of 2019 does not mean that the activity occurred in 2019.”

Moreover, people are more likely to post pictures of themselves when they are happy and healthy than when they are in a wheelchair or a hospital bed.”

Folks who are chronically ill and disabled are already saddled with being disbelieved that they are ill. As if being ill means that you aren’t human, that you might not have saved all your spoons for one night out, that you can’t ever do anything enjoyable!

I once had someone assert that I couldn’t have been ill because I clicked the “interested” button on a FB event post! Never mind I do that all the time to keep track of pipe dreams that I can rarely realize.

This is potentially dangerous.

Signal Boost: No. 1 Pacing Tip: How to Unlearn the “Completion Compulsion”

Pushing ourselves to complete a task is the most common pacing mistake most of us make.

“The next step is choosing a different action. Sometimes even with awareness, we can think, “I know I’m running out of energy, but I really want to get this done.” When this happens, it’s because our old programming is tempting us with an unconscious feeling that it will be better for us to continue; there’ll be some kind of reward. Our new knowledge––that it most certainly isn’t better for us to use too much energy––isn’t yet a strong enough neural pathway. Our subconscious doesn’t have as much evidence that it’s better for us to stop than we do for pushing through. In this case, we have to let go of our subconscious feeling that it will be better to keep going and make a conscious choice to do something different.”

This 👆. So hard to make the transition. Sometimes I can do it . Sometimes the sense of psychological satisfaction is too great and I push forward anyway.

Source: No. 1 Pacing Tip: How to Unlearn the “Completion Compulsion” – Prohealth

Reading List: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Image Description: The book cover for “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi. The cover is orange, with illustrations of the heads of two black women, facing in opposite directions, with yellow graphic waves.

Yaa Gyasi‘s novel “Homegoing” is a masterfully written historical novel. It begins in Ghana, and tells the story of the progression of two lines of a family tree over eight generations. One branch stays substantially in Ghana with a complex relationship with power and complicity with the slave trade. The other branch is sold into slavery in the United States. Each chapter is the story of a different family member, their context, dreams and struggles.

There are many very good books about race in the US available, and I have barely made a dent in my reading list. But I those I have read, this makes the short list of books I think should be required for white folks.

I missed the fanfare when it was first published, but it was recently brought to my attention through a conversation on Rachel Cargle’s Instagram. Rachel, and a couple of other black women I follow, have recently shared stories of personal pilgrimage to places like Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. They have shared a window into their experiences of standing in a place where their ancestors were held captive, tortured, treated worse than animals.

One conversation thread that I saw was about the pain black women were experiencing watching white people visit these places as tourists. A personal desire to have their own experience of grief and healing, without having to see people whose ancestors inflicted this violence. A few white women piped up, wanting to have their own experience of insight and understanding. They were encouraged that they could do that without making such a trip, and that one way to do that could be by reading “Homegoing.”

I think as white folks we are incredibly used to thinking that we have a right to be anywhere we want. That all spaces are ours. That is privilege and supremacy. We can learn to respect that some places and experiences are not ours to have. And be grateful when people of color choose to share their stories and perspectives with us to empathize and learn from. I’m grateful for what Yaa Gyasi has shared here. Her story will stay with me for a long time.


Signal Boost: What to Say If Your Friend Isn’t Going to ‘Get Well Soon’

Not everyone with a chronic or lifelong illness is going to ‘get well soon.’ One woman explains what to say and how to be there for someone living with a chronic illness that might not get better.

Source: What to Say If Your Friend Isn’t Going to ‘Get Well Soon

Thanks to a friend for sharing this essay by Alaina Leary. She covers a lot of ground for ways friends and family can be supportive. This is one of my favorite parts:

“Once I realized I wasn’t going to get better, I could finally work toward accepting that — living my best life withinmy body’s limits.Accepting those limits, though, is a grieving process for most of us. But it’s one that’s made easier when we have supportive friends and family by our side.Sometimes it can be easier to throw positive platitudes and well wishes at a situation. Truly empathizing with someone who’s going through a really difficult time — whether that’s a disability or the loss of a loved one or surviving trauma — is hard to do.

Empathizing requires us to sit with someone where they are, even if the place they are is dark and terrifying. Sometimes, it means sitting with the discomfort of knowing you can’t “fix” things.”

Reading List: Me and White Supremacy Workbook by Layla Saad

Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
[Image Description: Title page of “Me and White Supremacy Workbook” by Layla Saad displayed on a tablet. The tablet is sitting on a red notebook with a pen next to it. All are on top of a floral bedspread.]
I just finished my first pass with Layla Saad’sMe and White Supremacy Workbook.” I say first pass, because this book needs to be worked more than once. At its core, the workbook consists of 28 sets of writing prompts developed to explore 28 aspects of ways that white presenting folks can be complicit in white supremacy.  The book demands thoughtfulness, honesty, and a willingness to delve below the surface. A willingness to be uncomfortable with what you find.

The book is designed to be worked on your own, but also provides a method for reviewing and sharing that work in a circle with others. I had the opportunity to do this with a group of women, and we just finished our fifth and last circle together. It was powerful. I learned so much from their reflections on their own lives, some things that were totally different from anything in my life, and some things that I related to but hadn’t yet thought of on my own. I’m really grateful for that experience.

I’m also grateful that I could find a way to have that experience as someone who is housebound and bed-tethered. It is so hard for me to meet new people, and almost unheard of for me to participate in a group experience. I was hopeful that I would be able to join this group of local women via video conference, but instead, the group decided to come to my home each time and to help clean up after each circle. It was such a rich experience for me, and I think it was rich for them.

I’m struggling with the knowledge that being anti-racist requires me to do work in the world, while being someone with severe chronic illness, disability, and major limitations. I’m exploring what this can look like in *my* context in the world, and I’m beginning to find other folks online who are grappling with the same set of questions. If you are someone who is also in that boat, I’d love to hear from you.

The “Me and White Supremacy Workbook” is available to download for free from Layla’s website. While she has intentionally chosen to make this resource available without charge, there is also a PayPal link available to make a donation for her work. For even more ways to connect with her, check her out on Patreon, Instagram, the Good Ancestor podcast, or subscribe to her mailing list.


Reading List: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

My first book of the year: The Library Book by Susan Orlean.

This book tells the story of the Los Angeles Central Library, with a special focus on the fire that closed it for six years (and a bizarre investigation). Interspersed, are lots of sometimes quirky and sometimes useful facts about libraries past, present and future.


I read an ebook version from my local library, the Tompkins County Public Library (I also often get ebooks from the New York Public Library). I found the book generally fascinating, and it reinforced my appreciation for libraries and their roles in a community. It has me thinking more again about how libraries are one of the few public spaces outside capitalism. And renewed my interest in other types of resource sharing systems. Like here in Ithaca we have a toy library. And I’ve long thought it would be great to have a neighborhood resource sharing registry, like how many Bundt pans does a neighborhood need?

Do you use your library? Do you use any other kind of resource sharing?

Reading List: Sick by Porochista Khakpour


Several women published books about women and healthcare this year, and I eagerly read “Doing Harm” by Maya Dusenbery when it came out this spring. I had almost forgotten about “Sick” by Porochista Khakpour until a friend posted a year-end list of books of note, and it was on there under memoirs by women. The eBook happened to be available for download from the NYPL, so I took it out last weekend and gave it a read.

Porochista’s story of her life as an unwell immigrant woman of color is a compelling one. It is full of horror and suffering. And I wish I had been shocked by it.

Instead, I noticed which parts of her story I could relate to. I noticed which pieces sounded like stories I hear in Facebook support groups every day. I noticed which pieces of her story are ensnarled in racism and the lack of financial accessibility to the US health care system. And it just reinforced everything I already know, and everything that Maya Dusenbery pointed out: women, especially poor women and women of color, are screwed.

Relatively early in the book Porochista writes about the unfortunate scenario of being in a hospital:

I’d tried to avoid this hostile world of hospital rooms and doctors’ offices for years, but it haunted me. Here I was again, with something unrelated to Lyme and only two choices—to come clean or to hide, but I knew every decision would have something to do with my diagnosis. It amazed me that even after all these years, with all the time that had passed, as I managed to stay out of the medical system for the most part, and my fluency in their language still being proficient, that I could still be in this position—helpless, crazy-seeming, confusing, inconvenient, out of their norm, a problem. And not one worth the time to be solved.

And I thought, that sounds about right. I avoid the hospital at all costs. I carry a wallet card that explains my health conditions in hopes of preventing someone from calling an ambulance if I pass out in public. If I travel by myself, I wear a medical alert bracelet for the same reason. I’ve heard stories of folks who are treated so badly by their local hospitals when they need emergency access to fluids (not unusual for folks with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) that they have letters on file by their doctors and carry a copy with them and still have no guarantee of getting care when they need it. I regularly see folks on line asking for advice about whether to go to the hospital as they end up losing functions, finding themselves in excruciating pain, and other women counseling them not to go. Weighing the question of the small possibility of relief versus the possibility of being sent home with no care, being accused of “drug seeking,” being abandoned to the waiting room for hours with no one to watch their kids.

This stuff happens every day, folks. Maybe to you or someone you love.

I was also struck by Porochista’s bargaining and negotiations with herself. The years in which she thought it might be easier to “just” chalk up her ill health to addiction instead of admitting she might have Lyme. The ways we can easily deny our realities because they are too inconceivable. Because almost anything might be better that a resignation to a body that you (and your doctors and gurus) cannot heal, and a life you can no longer live. Even after knowing, the adjustment is hard:

It would take a second to remember myself, what I’d become. My full-time job became my health, which was now a mystery illness that was hopelessly complicated by and tangled with addiction to psychiatric medications. I couldn’t believe I was there again, after all the bad experiences I had had. Back to a life of pill bottles and pill cutters and days measured in dosages.

It is a gracious gift, women life Porochista who are allowing us to be voyeurs to her life, because there are thousands, probably millions, of stories that share something of hers. And they need to see the light of day.